On Wednesday, the United States surpassed all previous single-day records for new cases of COVID-19. It is, or at least should be, impossible for anyone to pretend that the pandemic is in any sense over. It is raging. It has been only nine days since Vice President Mike Pence published an editorial titled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’” and bragged about the decline in new cases. In the history of foolish statements, Pence made a bid for the most foolish. Unfortunately, he won.
Around the globe, the story of the pandemic is changing. As nation after nation brings local outbreaks under control, more and more this isn’t the story of a global disease. It’s a story about the utter failure of the United States … a disaster that may genuinely reshape the planet.
In Paris this week, visitors are again traveling to the top of the Eiffel Tower and visiting the Louvre. In Italy, tour guides are back on the streets, ready to tour visitors around the Pantheon or Coliseum. The threat of COVID-19 in those countries is far from over, but despite the level of disease that spread through both countries, the difference between what’s happening there and what’s happening in the United States could not be more graphic.
— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) June 24, 2020
It’s not just that new cases of COVID-19 are now greater than they were at their previous peak in April: it’s that they’re increasing at a rate equal to that of the previous climb in March.
If there’s anything that’s been front and center throughout Donald Trump’s residency in the White House, it’s been the utter and absolute destruction of the United States’ role as a world leader. Trump has seen to it that U. S. policy is vindictive, trite, and petty—utterly unconcerned with issues such as human rights or the environment, and absolutely focused on playing golf, eating cake, and exchanging “beautiful” letters with autocratic tyrants. Trump is far more concerned about where he gets to stand in pictures of NATO leaders than he is about the policies of NATO toward neighboring nations.
But if Trump’s handling of foreign affairs made the United States a laughingstock, his mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic is making the nation a pariah state. Even nations like Italy, which was stunned by the ferocity of the disease’s spread there, have worked the tools of isolation and lockdown, testing and tracing, masks, and careful reopening to stage manage a result that sees its current rate of infection two orders of magnitude lower than it was in March.
Italy isn’t a story of perfection, but it is still a story of success. So is France. So is almost everywhere. Even the hugely mismanaged effort in the U.K. has at last reduced the rate of infection there to a level where isolation and case tracing stands a reasonable chance of protecting the lives of citizens and the future of the economy.
The United States isn’t the only nation still reeling toward disaster, but the U.S. is unique in being the nation that has failed to address the pandemic, seen the horror that it could bring, and then failed again. The rising tide of cases in the United States represents an unmatched level of failure. An unrivaled instance of mismanagement. A peerless instance of utter incompetence.
Donald Trump has achieved this singular accomplishment in the same way that he has bumbled between so many failures in the past: an absolute inability to realize that he does not know everything. Trump is not smarter than all the generals. He doesn’t know more about energy than all the engineers. He doesn’t understand the environment better than all the scientists. And he absolutely does not understand how to manage a pandemic better than all the epidemiologists and health care experts at his disposal.
It’s absolutely true that the United States has access to the best experts and unmatched resources. That’s exactly what makes this such a f*cking tragedy.
Thanks to Donald Trump—thanks to Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan, and Devin Nunes, and Mitch McConnell, and Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, and Bill Barr, and every other damn Republican who has patted Trump on the back every time he has claimed some kind of special genius that allows him to ignore the actual experts—the United States is not just hurtling toward an epic disaster, it has already taken the kind of fall usually reserved for mythological figures.
How many Americans will die is still to be seen. But the “American Century” is dead and buried.